Why Do Puppies Hump?

Do puppies hump? Really? I always thought that puppies were those cute, little innocent bundles of fur who chase butterflies and toilet paper rolls down a flight of stairs. Isn't humping a behavior of adult dogs with certain "physical urges?" OMG, is my puppy really doing what it looks like? Oh, no, it can't be! And Princess Fifi, the French poodle next door is doing, that too? Well, here's a fact: puppies hump and you may be shocked to learn that female puppies do this too and puppies often start this behavior early in the litter.

Why Do Puppies Hump Other Puppies?

Puppies hump other puppies, it's a fact, and the behavior starts early, as early as dating back to the days puppies were at the breeder's homes living with their littermates and mom. Any observant breeder can attest that.

Watch the little puppies play and you will see attempts to mount, with puppies spending quite a bit of time climbing on top of each other. What gives? Isn't humping the way to reproduce? Not too fast.

Actually, it turns out, puppies hump in play and it's a totally natural behavior. When puppies play, they are enacting several aspects that are present in adult life and these may include even some reproductive behaviors.

Just as children practice play behaviors that mimic chores that occur in adulthood such as cooking, playing doctor or getting married, puppies often incorporate in play hunting elements such as stalking, chasing and pouncing, fighting elements ( such as pinning down, biting necks), fleeing elements (such as being chased) and even courtship elements (mounting).

So when a puppy is playing with other puppies and you notice mounting, it's most likely not what it looks like. The puppy humping other puppies is not trying to mate with the other puppies, nor are the male puppies being humped "abnormal" or at risk of becoming "gay." And for the records, female puppies hump too.

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A Matter of Overstimulation or Stress

Other than humping other puppies, puppies may sometimes hump anything that suits their needs and items may include dog beds, stuffed toys and even peoples' legs. What gives?

In several cases, this form of humping may be attributed to overstimulation and even stress in some circumstances. Paying attention to the context in which the behavior occurs, may turn helpful.

Does it happen when guests are over? Does it happen at the dog park? Does it happen when the dog is left alone?

Humping can be a way to release stress in situations that may be a tad bit overwhelming. Perhaps these are situations that trigger anxiety or overstimulation due to excess energy or excitement (most likely, not the type you may think of).

Sometimes, it may happen that the humping may just be a sign of a cranky, tired puppy. Just like tired toddlers, puppies may start to misbehave when they are in dire need for a nap.

Did you know? Humping can trigger fights at the dog park. According to a study conducted by Tami and Gallagher in 2009, excess mounting led to aggression 85 percent of the time.

A Way to Get Attention

 And then you have humping as a way to get attention. Let's face it: the behavior does sure garner a load of attention and smart puppies may learn use the behavior to their advantage. It may go something like this: the puppy is home alone for a good part of the day and the biggest perk of the day is greeting his owners coming home.

 Upon their arrival, the puppy is super excited and anticipates an evening of great fun. The owners feed him and then mom sits at the computer to answer emails, dad binge watches his favorite show, and the kids are in their own rooms playing video games. So boooring! 

How can the puppy brighten things up a bit? Perhaps he may try running around a bit, or barking. Not much luck. Maybe he can try to lick the owner's hand? Nah... 

So next, he tries humping the owner's legs. Bingo, this behavior is a winner! The owner finally takes his eyes off the screen and pushes Rover away saying:"Bad dog!" 

So what did the puppy get out of this? The puppy got his owner to look at him, touch him and even talk to him all at once. How great is that? Yes, because to a puppy craving attention, any form of attention is a reward, even if it's of the negative type!

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Watch the context in which the puppy humping behavior occurs

Potential Medical Problems

Something worth considering is that sometimes humping may be triggered by certain medical conditions. This is often the case with dogs who have never humped before and suddenly take a liking for the activity.

A common medical condition known to cause humping in puppies and dogs is a urinary tract infection. Although these are more common in female dogs due to their conformation, male dogs may develop these too at times.

Because urinary tract infections cause discomfort with a burning sensation, it is not unusual for dogs to try hump as a way to ease the unpleasant sensation. Licking their private areas may be seen too as dogs tend to lick painful areas.

Other medical problems known to trigger humping include allergies and general local irritation or itchiness. I once fostered a female spayed dog and the shelter informed me that she tried to hump other dogs and that this had triggered fights, so she had to be kept separated from other dogs.

In my home, she immediately tried to hump a large sized fake stuffed dog I often used for behavior assessments. I was astonished by the intense look on her face when doing so and the difficulty in redirecting her.

She also often licked her private areas very often and scooted. Just a day later, I noticed how irritated her private area was and she seemed to overall have a overly sensitive and itchy skin. She was sent to a vet to get checked out and hopefully it was all sorted out.

A True Drive to Mate

Worth mentioning is that sometimes humping is really what it looks like. This is often the case of male puppies reaching reproductive maturity, which in general happens around the age of 5 to 6 months.

If there is female in heat nearby, your puppy may therefore vent his frustration and desires by humping. This is hormonal-driven humping and can be diminished to a certain extent by neutering, although there are cases of humping that may persist even in neutered males.

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How to stop a puppy from humping?

 Now That You Know...

As seen, humping in puppies is quite a normal, natural behavior. Many dog owners allow their dogs to hump when it involves something as innocent as humping a pillow or stuffed animal. They call it their dog's "stress release" moment.

More troublesome humping is humping involving people. This needs addressed considering that this is an embarrassing behavior (especially when targeted towards guests!) and dogs can injure or get aggressive at times.

Humping other puppies and dogs may also need to addressed. In many cases, as long as the puppies playing look happy and are having fun there is no need to intervene. However, things start getting problematic if one puppy is pestering another puppy and the other puppy is trying to make the other dog stop. Here are some tips for stopping puppy humping.

  • See your vet to rule out any medical causes. Nothing is worse than trying to stop a dog's behavior when it is triggered by something medical going on. Not only does it not work, but the medical issues risk worsening when treatment is delayed.
  • Consider that the earlier the behavior is tackled, the better the outcome. A puppy who has rehearsed the mounting behavior for many months is going to be more difficult to tackle compared to a puppy who has just started.
  • Take note of when the behavior occurs and try to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here's the thing: dogs are very routine-oriented beings and when they rehearse behaviors over and over, they get stuck into their habits and practice makes perfect. So for example, if the humping starts when there are guests over, try to keep your dog on leash or behind a baby gate, at least initially, until he calms down a bit. If it happens at the dog park and the behavior risks causing fights, don't take him there.
  • Teach a replacement behavior. If your dog tends to mount the legs of guests, train him to hand target guests' hands instead in exchange for treats or to sit for a cookie. If these behaviors are highly reinforced, chances are, they will be happening more and more, eventually outranking the humping behavior.
  • You can try redirecting the behavior with a treat or a toy. If possible, catch your dog before he starts mounting but you know he is thinking about it. Not all toys may work in grabbing attention, but an interactive toy such as a plastic bottle filled with kibble or a stuffed Kong kept handy may do its job.
  • To easily interrupt the behavior in its tracks, have your dog wear a tab on his collar. A tab is basically a short, piece of leash that doesn't drag to the ground. The moment you notice humping, you can say "ah-ha!" and grasp the tab and accompany your dog to a timeout area. This is not punishment. The timeout area should be a pleasant place to chill. The dog can be provided with a chew toy to keep occupied while there. If you use scold your dog and bring him to a place of punishment, next time, he may play hard- to- get or he may even try to bite your hand when attempting to grasp the tab.
  • Stress-based humping requires finding ways to reduce a dog's level of stress.
  • Consider that in the case of attention-seeking humping, even just laughing or making a commotion may reinforce the behavior. Try to train an alternate behavior such as telling your dog to go grab a toy and shake it and reward that with ample of attention. You can even put the behavior on cue by saying go " grab that toy!" as you point at it.
  • Consider that neutering can help reduce hormone-driven humping, but the behavior may still persist in neutered dogs as there is a learned component too.
  • If your dog ever shows signs of getting aggressive when humping or upon being removed from a situation, consult with a dog behavior professional for an assessment and implementation of behavior modification. 

 

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